“We know how to celebrate Christmas. We’ve got that down to a science. We just haven’t figured out how to celebrate Jesus.”
This quote is from Matt, who blogs at TheChurchOfNoPeople.com. While his posts are always thought-provoking and entertaining (yes, he manages to accomplish both!), this statement really got me thinking.
It’s true. Our culture is so bound up in Christmas that we miss Jesus. Even in the church, we sometimes focus on the Christmas program, the poinsettias for the platform, the gifts for missionaries, the songs, the turkeys for the poorer part of town, the lights, and all the other holiday accessories, that we just don’t have time for the birthday boy. Have we even invited Him to the party?
Pete and I have been aware of the problem for a number of years. While we certainly don’t have all the answers, we are intentionally trying to celebrate Jesus. The first question we asked was, How do we celebrate Him the rest of the year?
Here’s what we’ve come up with so far.
First and most important is spending “quality time” in prayer and meditation. Jesus came so we could be reconciled with God. Doesn’t it make sense, then, to take advantage of that incredible opportunity?
Yet, carving out a focuses, one-on-one time for God is difficult on any day; it’s even harder during the frantic Christmas season. To keep God in the picture, some traditions had to go.
This took some trial and error. While I’m happy to stay home on Christmas Eve, Pete grew up attending a midnight service at church. Since that is an important part of his celebration, we always go to a candlelight service. On the other hand, he doesn’t care at all if I make Christmas cookies. But I do. So I still make them—but only one or two kinds, not half a dozen.
Things we both have agreed to eliminate include any Christmas specials on TV, cutting down a live tree, elaborate decorations, caroling, lots of holiday parties (my birthday comes in the middle of Advent, which complicates things), and a big Christmas dinner. Your list will probably be different. Plus, we avoid taking on new traditions.
While giving is an integral part of following Jesus, I don’t need a zillion ads to tell me what to buy. We turn off the TV and use an iPod instead of the car radio so we don’t get bombarded with commercials. We already don’t get the newspaper or magazines with ads. Instead, all year I try and notice what my family and friends mention they’d like, and I write it all down. By Christmas, most of my list is already made. Then I try hard to finish my shopping and gift-making by Thanksgiving. It’s amazing how much stress you eliminate without the nagging pressure to buy things!
We reduced and redirected our family gift budget to allow for giving to others–last year I “gave” my husband a goat (it’s living in the Dominican Republic), and I “received” support for a widow in Africa and a flock of chickens (very appropriate, as I actually do have hens). We prefer to give these gifts through Harvest of Hope, a ministry of Partners International, although other organizations also have similar gift catalogs.
Since my 89-year-old Dad has no other family, we still celebrate Christmas at home with presents and brunch. At some point in the future, however, we’ll probably serve at a soup kitchen, and get together with our kids another day. This has the added advantage of allowing our daughters and their husbands to develop their own family celebrations.
There are hundreds of Christmas traditions, and every family is different. We try and treat all the options the same way we do a potluck dinner. You simply can’t eat some of everything, so you pick and choose, enjoying your favorites and passing over a lot of other goodies. Just remember that Jesus is the main course!